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Ghana Festivals

A popular feature and probably somewhat large part of Ghanaian life is tied up with the many festivals which are held all over the country throughout the whole year. For the most part they are joyous colourful social affairs when the locals dress up in their traditional costumes and meet together to celebrate or commemorate. Barely a week goes by without one or other town or village holdings its major annual celebration, while everyday personal events such as funerals, name-giving ceremonies and weddings tend also to be taking place with something of a carnival atmosphere.

Festivals in Ghana occur throughout the whole year and are used as a means to remember their ancestors and to be protected and favoured by them, but they are also held to purify the area and allow its people to go into the new year with hope and vision. They are a year round affair with different regions, ethnic groups and tribes having different celebrations. These rituals and celebrations are an important part of daily life and this can be easily seen by the large gatherings that are seen at festivals, marriages and funerals.

Bakatue Festival, Elmina

Steven Belcher

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There are over two hundred festivals celebrated each year. Some of the more important of perhaps around 100 local festivals have become special tourism events. Many are annual affairs where people get together to celebrate or commemorate, however some groups have a number of these that take place throughout the year. An example of an annual festival is the Aboakyer Festival which is celebrated each year on the first Saturday in May by the people of Simpa or Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana.  It is a celebration to mark the migration of these people from the ancient Western Sudan Empire where they were led by 2 brothers and a god called Otu. Upon consulting their god, they were instructed by their traditional priest or mediator between the people and the god to sacrifice a young member of the Royal family every year to their god.

This was not good news so they made an appeal to their god who asked for an animal from the wild cat family to be caught alive and beheaded before the god. Initially the wild cat chosen was a Leopard, however later this was considered too dangerous to catch a live leopard, many men were lost before capturing it alive. A second appeal when to the gods and he decided to accept a mature bush buck (like a deer) instead.

A hunting expedition by two Asafo groups compete to catch live antelope in a nearby game reserve. The first group to present its catch to the Chief at a colourful durbar is declared the winner and is highly regarded for bravery. A durbar and procession of the chiefs and warrior groups in colourful regalia together with brass bands, dancing, performances of folklore and parties takes place as a part of the celebration.

Aboakyer Festival in Winneba

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Some festivals are more regular like that of the Ashanti people in and around Kumasi where one of their festivals takes place every 40th day. The Adae and Akwasidae Festival (festival of Purifying of the Ashantis’ ancestral stools), is also referred to as the Festival of the Asante (Ashanti). Celebrated every 40th day (once every 6 weeks), by the Ashantis. The Ashantis believe in the dead and when a king dies his stool (chair) is sent to a special place where it is kept. During this festival the Kings of Asante worship their ancestral stools and skeletons of the past Kings preserved at the Bantama mausoleum. The festival can take place on any day of the week and 40 days after the previous Adae, however when it falls on a Sunday it is known as the Akwasidae Festival. It is a public affair and the King sits in state at a big durbar and anyone can shake hands with the King. All the chiefs and traditional people of Ashanti also come to pay homage. This is preceded with the Ashanti King, riding in a palanquin, adorned with all his gold ornaments. Outside the Royal Palace in Kumasi he watches a colourful procession with coloured canopies and umbrellas, drummers, dancers, horn-blowers and praise singers. One such date when a Akwasidae will take place in 2009 is Sunday 4th October.

J Nash J Nash

Kente Cloth Festival in the Agotime traditional area in Kpetoe of the Volta Region

And then there are some that take place only every couple of years like the Panafest. This is a cultural event dedicated to the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the development of the African continent. It is organised for Africans and people of African descent and its goals are to establish the truth about the history of Africa and the experience of the African people, using African arts and culture to show this. It consists of performances and workshops in theatre, African dance, drama, music, cinema, poetry, colloquia and lectures. A sample of they types of activities which take place during one of these events includes the Grand Durbar of Chiefs in full costume, Rites of Passage programs, Slave March re-enactment, midnight candlelight vigils at Cape Coast Castle, and tours are available to various places of interest such as slave castle dungeons. It is held in the historical towns of Cape Coast and Elmina. Celebrated every 2 years in August, the next being in 2009.

We have compiled a list of those we have been able to identify and can be seen in our reference section under Diary of Festivals.


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